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TNS pioneered PDA provision and paid the price

One of the key strengths of TNS was its approach to supporting pupils with chronic anxiety.

Shortly before closure, managers established a working group to carry out practice-based research into different patterns of anxiety with a view to developing guidelines for staff in helping young people access education and participate in broader learning opportunities.

Sadly, the school was forced to close before that work could begin, but we asked Bill Colley (former Head of School) for his views on Pathological Demand Avoidance which has emerged in recent years as a new and perhaps controversial understanding of some behaviours seen in pupils who struggle to attend school.

“I first came across PDA around 15 years ago and was quite sceptical at first. My training had conditioned me to think mainly about autism in the conventional sense that the best way of supporting kids was to put in place structure, predictability, and routine.

Since then, and with increasing experience in working with pupils with demand avoidant profiles, I have learnt that a different approach is required and that all professionals involved in assessing and supporting such children should be equipped with the tunderstanding and tools necessary to provide the right type of support to avert disengagement from learning”.

Professor Chris Gillberg, a global authority on autism has also written recently about his own understanding of PDA, or “extreme demand avoidance as he prefers to call it. His blog can be read here.

Fortunately, although TNS has now gone, parents and professionals elsewhere are lobbying for Parliament to improve services for this population. Their petition can be found here:

Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to-

1. Draw up in co-operation with others, a toolkit for professionals to assist in diagnosing and designing therapeutic support for children, young people and adults who have Pathological Demand Avoidance, a profile within the autism spectrum

2. Offer training in the use of such a toolkit and additionally to signpost, promote and facilitate other training by those who have successfully developed therapeutic programmes

3. Provide access to appropriate education, therapies and interventions to reduce or minimise the effects of the condition for the individuals and their families and carers.

Bill Colley